The Q&A Archives: Tomatoes and Hairy Vetch

Question: I read in the Burpee book that a USDA study showed that a tomato grown in a cover of Hairy Vetch produced twice as many tomatoes as not. Can you tell me exactly the process to do that, i.e. sow vetch the fall before then mow and sow tomato starts. Or, Put your tomatoes in the ground and the sow some vetch around them? Any direction would be great. And could you tell me the difference between vetch and this red plastic mulch they are advertising as increasing yields in tomatoes. Which one do you think is better?

Answer: Cover crops serve many purposes; they enrich the soil when they're turned over in the spring, they stop soil erosion during fall and winter rains, and they suppress weeds. Vetch is a legume, and as such it helps fix nitrogen in the soil. Other legumes fix nitrogen as well (clover is a good example), but vetch seems to have just the right properties to make tomatoes especially happy and productive. Cover crops should be sown in the fall and turned under in the spring, prior to planting your veggies. Mulches help soil retain moisture and help suppress weeds. If they're organic materials they'll release nutrients into the soil as they decompose. Studies have shown that red mulch material has a positive effect on tomato production because of the ultraviolet rays it concentrates and reflects up to the plants. If it were my choice, I'd go with a fall sowing of vetch, turn it under, plant my tomatoes and mulch with 3-4 inches of compost. This method will enrich your soil all season long which will help the tomato plants grow and produce abundant crops of tomatoes.

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